Thursday, September 10, 2009

Chivalry May Be Dead, But Literacy Ain't

In addition to trying to make geeks cool, this month's Wired magazine also revealed some fascinating research on student literacy in the digital age.

Stanford professor Andrea Lunsford studied five years worth of student writing in and out of the classroom (just about anything written in any medium you could imagine). What she found among the tweets, texts, academic essays and assignments is staggering:
"I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization," she says. For Lunsford, technology isn't killing our ability to write. It's reviving it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.
This generation (and I'd like to be so bold as to include myself) is writing more than ever, mostly in text (by the very nature of blogs, social media, etc) and doing more of it outside of school for perhaps the first time in history.

The greatest skill that we've developed is called kairos, which essentially means we're able to adapt our writing style for different audiences. While it may be hard to get a particular student to write a five paragraph essay, that same student might go home and write everything from "sprawling TV-show recaps to 15,000-word videogame walkthroughs." It's nothing short of a revolution.

Thus it is the best argument for incorporating not only new technology, but the many new forms of writing and art that the digital age has inspired into your classroom. There's many simple ways to do this, across the curriculum:
  1. Incorporate student blogging.
  2. Use Internet memes as creative writing prompts. Take your typical Facebook-style meme: "Answer these 25 questions about yourself, then send it to your friends." You could actually have students pass them around instead of just having them turn it in immediately. That sounds like a fun first day activity to me!
  3. Display student work publicly, but let them know at the beginning. Take advantage of their skill at writing for particular audiences and have them write for them. A project that will be displayed by the main entrance at school should elicit a different response than something you'd put on the classroom wall. Imagine what would happen if you could get a local art gallery, museum or library to host student work!
  4. Borrow the Internet's best ideas. Maybe your students could create a PostSecret project, recap whatever popular TV show about vampires is on this week, or explain the ins-and-outs the Nintendo Wii. You don't necessarily need the technology to tap into the power of these ideas.
I'm interested in your reactions and ideas based on this research. I'll be looking for them in the comments.